The Great Indian Education Circus
In the past few years, Indian education system has been a point of conversation, be it for the achievements of Nobel laureates or be it for protests of university students. While we have praised or remanded the system categorically, our conversations have often failed to gain a visceral understanding.
It is irrefutable that we are putting a lot of effort in developing our higher education system through a more liberal course structure and interdisciplinary studies. However, we tend to ignore the fact that students often cannot grasp their higher education in its entirety as they have a severe gap in their early education. Especially in the government schools of India, there is a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. The recruiting system for government teachers is so archaic and rote-learning based that they fail to judge contemporary skills and cognitive abilities among teachers. On the other hand, due to the secure nature of the job and lack of incentivising mechanism, there are no positive or negative reinforcements to motivate them for self-development. This condition directly impacts in poorly conducted classes with minimum engagement with students where students learn how to memorize to pass the tests but fail to form deeper understanding of any subject.
In addition to poor classroom teaching, schools also reinstate a strict code of conduct on students which discourages any form of questioning or curiosity. Teachers often go to the extent of mocking or ridiculing students who do not conform to their notion of propriety or gender binaries. They completely ignore the differences in learning styles, grasping power, attention span and refuse to acknowledge learning disabilities. The concept of punishment makes it worse for the slow learners who eventually start slipping out.
These students gradually enter college with a limited conceptual understanding and without any real inclination towards a stream. Most of their choices of subjects are either forced upon them or a result of social fad. Thus, the knowledge gap widens even in the college level. It is interesting that neither a high school nor a college following Indian pedagogy includes skill development as a key learning component. While they focus on the ability to memorize unnecessary data, the students severely lack essential skills such as communication, leadership, problem solving and team work.
However, the remedy to this flawed system is not that difficult to implement although it requires three levels of change. The first change should occur in the way classroom teaching is conducted. It begins with establishing a dialogue in the classroom. Teachers tend to deliver a prepared lecture in the classroom which leaves little room for students to actively engage with the content. While we are at it, there is also a pressing need for contextualizing the content, especially in social sciences. It is a general misconception among students that social sciences are boring and can be learnt through memorization. The fault here lies with the approach of the system towards these subjects. Instead of discussing the purpose or the relevance of these subjects, teachers tend to reduce them to mere data. On the other hand, teaching of science remains largely theoretical in the junior classes and semi-practical in the senior ones. Although there are practical classes of science at higher level, those are mostly instructional without any real sense of experimentation. Thus, children should be encouraged to discuss and apply the scientific concepts they learn through actively engaging in the process of creation. These creative endeavors would not only give them a way to actualize knowledge, it will also help them by developing analytical and problem solving skills.
The second change involves a technological revolution, especially in government school classrooms. Technology aids a range of learning apparatus which are useful in enhancing cognitive abilities among students. Students learn a great deal with the help of visual aids. For instance, instead of conducting history lectures, film screening on historical events can evoke more interest among students. Even though many schools have adopted the concept of smart classroom, it is still a distant dream for most schools. Apart from a smart classroom, using various applications in the administration is also helpful for measuring learning impact. The current grading system of most school relies on periodic assessments which occurs twice or thrice a year. However, with the help of technology, it is possible to keep a track of individual progress, skill gap and interventions needed round the year. These applications could also be helpful in interacting with parents, giving them feedback and providing training modules to teachers.
The third change is required at the level of policy making, especially for government schools. The current education policy focuses more on bringing maximum number of students inside the school periphery and reducing the number of dropouts. Without disputing the importance of these aspects, there are very few existing policies which speak about improving the classroom conditions and learning outcomes of students. The policy makers tend to solve the issue of unemployment by introducing more vocational courses while they fail to understand the need of early intervention in school pedagogy.
Hence, increased attention on higher education amounts to little change without significant changes in the school education system. We expect colleges and universities to transform children into complete adults but forget that the process remains incomplete without a strong foundation and sufficient building blocks. While various alternative education systems have been established in the past years, the majority of Indian schools have refused to come out of archaic pedagogy and obsolete syllabus which create major hindrance in the required foundation. The onus thus falls on the future educators to initiate the process of change in order to develop a skilled and able generation of future learners.